DC Metro Train Car, Friday 11 January 2019
We’re two weeks into 2019 and we’re three weeks into the federal shut-down. I’m starting to think until the ripples reach the rest of the country, that a lot of folks don’t quite understand what that means.
I don’t want to fixate on things too much, but it’s serious for the nearly million families affected, and it’s going to be even more serious as the financial and social ripples spread out. Right now, in the Northern Virginia area where we live, and where employment is heavily, heavily federal, what it means is this…
The majority of Federal employees aren’t what people imagine when they listen to the news. It’s not the lobbyists on Capital Hill, or the special interest lawyers. In DC, it’s Smithsonian employees, curators, archivists preserving our national heritage. It’s the cafeterias, gift shops and janitorial services in each of the many national museums and other federal buildings. It’s the tourist economy around the entire National Mall. It’s the monuments themselves, which are fenced off and not available to visit. It’s the vendors who line downtown DC, which is normally hustling, regardless of the month. It’s FBI agents investigating all manor of crimes, State Department professionals who work to ensure world stability, food inspectors making sure regulations are followed, scientists with years-long research projects, transit authorities, passenger and freight rail safety and inspections, trucking and mass transport, and it’s the tragedy of National Parks that might be irreparably damaged in some cases.
It’s the air traffic controllers at every single airport in the country. They are “essential” so they are reporting for duty every day, but they are not being paid. That’s a pretty damn important job for people who are feeling burnt out and stressed, having last made money before Christmas, and trying to figure out how they’re going to feed their families and pay their bills. The same for every TSA agent in every airport. “Essential” and also working without pay–and those are not high-paying jobs. Mo, who you know and love, has worked every day, including Christmas Day, is a single mother of three, and has received no pay. Her former husband is also a federal employee and is also not being paid, so there is literally no support.
Let’s not forget the foreign service members who are reporting for duty in far reaching countries, who are not always safe, and who sometimes have with their families with them, who are far from home and also not being paid.
Repeat this story half a million times. The other half a million are waiting at home, desperate to get back to vital work they have pending, projects that have been in the works for years, research that may now be compromised, and far-reaching medical testing that is in jeopardy
In the Northern Virginia area, as this shutdown drags on, our Metro transit trains are empty, and we are starting to see small businesses fail. Restaurants are deserted, grocery store shelves are low on products. Maid services, yard services, “extras” are being cut, and the economy is shrinking. Some of this might come back when things eventually open, but some of our communities are irreparably damaged.
My own husband has three college degrees and a decade and a half of federal service. Like so many people in our area, he chose federal service out of love for his country, despite often higher salaries in the private sector. He’s a highly trained specialist, and trust me, you may not know what he does, but you want him and agents like him doing their jobs.
Federal agents cannot strike. If a federal agent who is deemed “essential” doesn’t show up for their job, they don’t just loose their job (and possible seniority and retirement), but an arrest warrant is issued for them. So whatever you’ve been hearing on the news, or facebook, or from your loud uncle is not likely the whole story.
And none of this even touches on the emotional upwelling of fear and trauma this brings up for children (and parents, to be frank) who have already lived through loss, housing instability and food insecurity. We don’t know how we’re going to pay our bills—and neither do most other people in our area. Consider the ripples.
And I didn’t even get to foodstamps, WIC and other programs protecting the most very vulnerable among us. And that 800,000 number is the actual employees. In our family, my husband supports us and four children. If you extrapolate that out, the number of people being harmed and left without means of support is horrifying.
The United States of America needs to be up and functioning. People need to grasp how important those many professional, highly trained and dedicated civil servants are not just for our own health, safety and stability—but for the stability of the entire world.